Yesterday, we chalked up another big win for the environment. The U.S. and Canadian governments placed an indefinite ban on issuing new oil and gas licenses in Arctic waters. Despite the hyperventilating coming from the American Petroleum Institute, this is a case of sanity prevailing when it comes to our energy and environmental future.

arctic seal

The science is clear: if we want to limit planetary warming to below 2 degrees Celsius or less, the vast majority of deposits of coal, oil and natural gas that have already been found must stay in the ground. Otherwise, we risk dangerous levels of climate change. (Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, the goal of the Paris Agreement, means even more fossil fuels left in the ground.)

The first fossil fuel projects to come off the table should be those that are expensive or dangerous. Arctic deep sea drilling is both.

The Arctic ecosystem is both precious and sensitive. Inuit and other Indigenous and northern people depend on a healthy ecosystem for their livelihoods and their culture. This ban on new licenses will help protect the fragile Arctic.

But, even with this ban, seismic companies are planning to continue exploring in the Canadian Arctic where they have existing exploration licenses. Yes, it seems absurd to continue to explore for oil when the government isn’t issuing new licenses to drill for it, but that appears to be the plan, at least for now. The next step is for the Canadian government to take away those existing exploration licenses from oil and gas companies.

The hyperbole of the American petroleum industry aside, this move by the Canadian and U.S. governments may not face much opposition. Even companies with drilling licenses, such as Shell, have abandoned them because of high costs of working in what can be a harsh and unforgiving environment.

Yesterday’s ban sends a clear signal that a melting Arctic – itself caused by climate change – isn’t a license for companies to drill for more oil and gas. Moreover, it’s an important sign that some world leaders acknowledge that we cannot burn all the oil, gas and coal we’ve already found, let alone explore for more of it in sensitive environments, if we want a healthier and cooler planet.

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